Building Sacred Communities

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
— Mark 4:35-41 Jesus Calms the Storm
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This week words printed on a $39 jacket spoke volumes. Simultaneously tone deaf and descriptive of the President’s response to people seeking asylum. “I don’t care, do you?" It wasn’t meant this way, but perhaps it can be read as a challenge to us. We can be outraged at all of this. But do we care? Really? “Do you not care that we are perishing?” The disciples cry from the depths of their fear. And Jesus’ words after calming the storm are a challenge back to them — “Have you still no faith?”

But what is faithful response when the storms of the world rage?

Sacred community is one of the values of the Park Church Co-op. Or rather we understand that what makes this a sacred place is not the ornamentation and the stained glass windows, but the people who are gathered here. And that gathering is done by the Holy Spirit. So that each time people come together this becomes holy ground. The question then is how we will respond to the gathering God has wrought among us this morning. Or next Sunday, or Tuesday at bible study or for concerts and community.

About 10 years ago I went to Maine with a friend. One place we visited was Sabbathday Lake, which is the last remaining Shaker community, with only two official Shakers left. The model of the Shaker community was not a sustainable one. They saw themselves as faithful remnants. In the 18-19th centuries, they practiced celibacy and removed themselves from the world. It was their way of creating a sacred community. Set apart, protected from the immorality and impurity of the world around them. They saw themselves as the small boat on the ocean. Jesus was inside and the storms raged around. But they were kept safe by their faith.

There are still those communities that believe holiness is about separating themselves from the world. But that is not what Jesus promises. Jesus sends his followers into the world as the storms rage. To be the ones that understand the peace of God in the face of tumultuousness around them. It’s why having places like this to retreat to for just a time is so important. When we are gathered in here we enter sacred time and space. We say we are part of a different reality. The values of God’s Kingdom are in full force as we proclaim peace to each other, even if there were war outside the doors. We say that salvation belongs to all, even when we know there are people out there suffering because of who they are. We give thanks for blessings, even if things are not quite what we wish they would be for us or our neighbors. For this hour they can be. This may seem like delusional thinking. But the reason we practice living this different reality here is so that we can take it with us when we re-engage with a tempestuous world.

Jesus, do you not care that we are perishing? In the midst of the disaster that is our government and the lives that are being destroyed even as we gather, we ask this same question. Do you not care? Jesus knows what they don’t in that moment. That the depths to which humanity can sink under the guise of enforcing law and order would reveal itself sooner than they knew. And Jesus would be the one left on the cross alone. The followers would disappear as he hung on the cross. Do you not care that I am perishing?

We know the storm raging right now. We can’t escape the media coverage. And we ourselves are filled with roiling outrage at the scenes of children, even infants being torn away from parents. Put in detention centers. Even here in New York City. Over 2000 in just the last two months.

In the story fear and faith are intimately tied. Jesus seems to put them at odds. But facing down fear is the seed of faith. Acting despite fear is what faith is about.

I think about parents who fled countries with children on their backs and at their sides. Where was their fear the greatest? Was it facing gang violence in their homeland? Was it when they got into trucks driven by strangers on a treacherous journey across multiple borders? Was it when they arrived at the US/Mexico border to face ICE agents unsure of what the next step would be? Was it when their children were taken away for baths never to return?

And yet the journey they undertook was with hope that in the end they would find safety and that things would be better than they were back home. It takes an incredible amount of faith to enter the storm like that. Do you not care that we are perishing?

We should not doubt that if Jesus is anywhere he is in those detention centers with people who are suffering. And what we practice in here is a definitive, “Yes,” to the question, “Do you not care?” We are reminded at the table when we are all fed by God’s grace. And we assure one another the sharing of peace. That Jesus is in the boat amid the storms with us.

In turn we enter the storm out there with people who need to know that the answer to the question, “Do you care?” is “Yes, we do.” Sacred space and community is where we are reminded of God’s care for us. Not so that we sit and relish it, soaking it all up for ourselves. It’s so we are strengthened to be the ones proclaiming God’s peace for those who are being tossed about in this life.

Even when we don’t care or don’t know HOW to care, Jesus does. And the grace of God is poured on us and all people. So when we see the storms coming, we face with faith despite our fear.